The four-track tape recorder gets its day in the sun with new Pittsburgh lo-fi compilation | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The four-track tape recorder gets its day in the sun with new Pittsburgh lo-fi compilation

A Chronology of Survival: The Lo-Fi of K.M. Gainfort celebrates the catalog of Mirkwood Recordings

Kurt Gainfort bought a TASCAM four-track cassette recorder in 1996, and in the years that followed, the device grew to define his sound. Recording on only four tracks can be constricting, but it was that limitation that shaped the way he made music, whether for his label, Mirkwood Recordings, as K.M. Gainfort, or under the moniker, Stands in Lightning. Now, the TASCAM’s kaput and Gainfort’s marking the occasion with a compilation of his work called A Chronology of Survival: The Lo-Fi of K.M. Gainfort

The 20 songs are lo-fi for sure, but far from the airy buzz of Daniel Johnston-era lo-fi. This sound is closer to Guided By Voices or Les Savy Fav: The recording isn’t fancy, but its unfanciness doesn’t feel particularly stylized; it just is. This is the kind of recording that makes noise when no music is playing. 

“When you’re recording on a four-track, no matter how good you get it, it’s always gonna sound like a four-track,” says Gainfort, who also played guitar in Surrounded by Mice. “There’s always this real human element involved.” 

That human element is more than apparent as soon as the compilation lifts off with its opener “H.I. McDonaugh Thoughts” (“sometimes it’s a hard world for small things”). Whatever unconscious distrust swells up when you hear Auto-Tune or other tools of too-perfect production, this song inspires the opposite. The whole album does. 

Gainfort founded Mirkwood Amateur Recordings in the mid-2000s as an outlet for his music and other local artists working in American post-punk. In the years since, he cut “amateur” from the name while keeping the concept, releasing records by regional bands like STEVE and Ruined by Worlds. Now that he’s married with a full-time job, and many of his label’s bands are defunct or near-defunct, it seemed like a good time to say goodbye. 

With A Chronology of Survival, Gainfort simply wants to get this music out there. It’s available for free on Bandcamp, as are all Mirkwood Recordings releases. He just wants people to hear it, and to know what obsolete recording technology can achieve. 

“This is what a four-track can do,” says Gainfort. “This is what it can be.” 

You can download any Mirkwood Recordings releases on Bandcamp, for free. The former domain,, is now owned by a different label of the same name. 

Comments (0)

Add a comment

Add a Comment
  • Seth Clark: Transience

    @ BoxHeart Gallery

    Tuesdays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Wednesdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sundays, 1-5 p.m. Continues through Feb. 28